The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)

By Julian Barnes
Publisher:Knopf, (10/5/2011)

Average Rating:
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3.67 out of 5 (6 Clubie's ratings)

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Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize

By an acclaimed writer at the height of his powers, The Sense of an Ending extends a streak of extraordinary books that began with the best-selling Arthur & George and continued with Nothing to Be Frightened Of and, most recently, Pulse.
This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes’s oeuvre.
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Steph's thoughts on "The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)"
updated on:1/5/2012

Though  The Sense of an Ending is short on pages, it is not lacking and in fact is quite robust with subject matter.  At the same time, there is a lot unspoken, although it is not to the disatisfaction of the reader – at least this reader - and is parallel to the main characters quest for re-discovery of an event from his past.  Appropriately titled, The Sense of an Ending, follows the early and later life of Tony Webster.  In the first part, we are introduced to Tony and his school mates as they discuss their philosophies and curiosities.  One particular event, the suicide of a school mate, becomes a topic of question and debate.  A topic that recurs later in the book.  As the four friends go their separate ways, we are introduced to new characters through Tony.  It is during this time that one of the four friends commits suicide.  While the surviving friends cursorily discuss this, it is not until the second part of the book, which takes place 40 years later, that the tragedy is really examined.  At this point, Tony Webster has lived a life – he’s been married, had children, and is now divorced – when a letter transports Tony back compelling him to examine his life from 40 years ago.  As alluded to earlier, this book is full of fodder for discussion - time and perception, mortality, the effects of memory.  This was a very good book and would be a very good book for a book club discussion.

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Nick's thoughts on "The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)"
updated on:1/4/2012

I am generally a big sucker for the big epic plot and clever storyline...books where the story takes the reader all kinds of places and is filled with surprising zigs and zags. The Sense of Ending is not one of those books. It is a somewhat quiet character study, focused on a pretty small series of events, but viewing them both from the standpoint of youth and maturity. It also, in my opinion, one of the most well-written books I've encountered in some time. The writing is sharp and efficient, but never feels sparse. A lot is left unsaid, but yet you know the characters and feel Tony's journey through this. This book probably isn't for everyone, but I think the selective approach to the narrative is so well done and unique, it's worth checking out.


Sam's thoughts on "The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)"
updated on:12/31/2011

What starts out as school time reminiscing and flashbacks sets the foundation of the mystery to be solved by our retired protagonist. From his "man crushes" on his childhood friends to those oh so powerful dips into first love. The foundation of the story is interesting and oh so very real in its writing. Where "Twilight" may appeal to the inner teenage girl in you, this book will appeal to the teenage boy in you. As the relationships end we see how they still have a hold over Tony even in retirement, especially when they are plopped back in his lap with the mysterious death bed bequest from his former girlfriend's mother. Now Tony is forced to put back the pieces of his long ago past in order to make sense of it all. Tony's adult perspective on his younger self is both interesting to observe slightly painful. Painful in the sense as you can see the ending coming, it is just a question of how will he deal with it all. I only wish the writer had explored this part more with additional writing.

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Book Junky's thoughts on "The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)"
updated on:12/30/2011

I'll start off by saying that I really did enjoy the writing. I loved the style and, of course, I loved the sprinkling in of these deep thoughts. (I love that stuff!) But, the story was so unbelievably predictable that the book irritated me. And the fact that we never really get to dip into Adrian's journal was annoying, as I thought Adrian's perspective would be more interesting than Tony's. I really loved the concept of the character having to go back into his memories to make sense of the present (and the past). There is definitely interesting things to discuss for your book club get-together, and the book is short and reads super fast. So if you have a busy month I say pick it. It is enjoyable and will lend itself to great discussion. But don't expect to be shocked at the ending.

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Ceci's thoughts on "The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)"
updated on:12/28/2011

Nothing sets me on edge like an unreliable narrator. Done right, it gives a powerful, and sometimes surprising, perspective to a story. Done wrong, its just misleading, pretentious, or even pointless. So with the immediate announcement that "what you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you witnessed," and a practically page-by-page reminder that we should treat his memories and perceptions with skepticism, I was not kindly inclined toward this book. And, for goodness sake, if you bother to take this approach, then, at least, grant me the favor of an awesome payoff when you reveal what the narrator missed. Here? Meh. This plot would not even warrant a storyline on any of the soap operas that still play on daytime television (RIP All My Children). That said, I did actually enjoy the book. Its language is wonderful, and it is wonderfully compact. It expertly captures the simultaneous idiocy and wisdom of adolescents, the pain and grace of aging, and the small ways we hurt each other and ourselves. I dont think I needed to be beaten over the head about Tonys untrustworthy memory, but as annoyingly unreliable Tony is as a narrator, he does perfectly illustrate how moments of self-clarity often simply sink back down into a giant ocean of self-delusion. In the end, there is even a pretty good payoff to the book. I'm just not sure I can trust it.

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Webmaster's thoughts on "The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)"
updated on:12/12/2011

Great Book!!!

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"The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)"
By Julian Barnes

Average Rating:
Unleash it
3.67 out of 5 (6 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

The Title
What does the title mean?

Water as Metaphor
The novel opens with a handful of water-related images. What is the significance of each? How does Barnes use water as a metaphor?

Eros and Thanatos
The phrase “Eros and Thanatos,” or sex and death, comes up repeatedly in the novel. What did you take it to mean?

History of the Historians
At school, Adrian says, “we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us” (p. 13). How does this apply to Tony’s narration?

Was it love?
Did Tony love Veronica? How did his weekend with her family change their relationship?

Get away with too much
When Mrs. Ford told Tony, “Don’t let Veronica get away with too much” (p. 31), what did she mean? Why was this one sentence so important?

Cowardly or Peaceable
Veronica accuses Tony of being cowardly, while Tony considers himself peaceable. Whose assessment is more accurate?

Severn Bore
What is the metaphor of the Severn Bore? Why does Tony’s recollection of Veronica’s presence change?

Suffered Damage
Why did Tony warn Adrian that Veronica “had suffered damage a long way back?” (p. 46). What made him suspect such a thing? Do you think he truly believed it?

In addition to Adrian’s earlier statement about history, Barnes offers other theories: Adrian also says, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” (p. 18), and Tony says, “History isn’t the lies of the victors  . . .It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated” (p. 61). Which of these competing notions do you think is most accurate? Which did Tony come to believe?

Discuss the character Margaret. What role does she play in Tony’s story?

Bequest Blood Money
Why does Mrs. Ford make her bequest to Tony, after so many years? And why does Veronica characterize the £500 as “blood money”?

After rereading the letter he sent to Adrian and Veronica, Tony claims to feel remorse. Do you believe him? What do his subsequent actions tell us?

Why give up?
When Veronica refuses to turn over the diary to Tony, why doesn’t he give up? Why does he continue to needle her for it?

What is Tony’s opinion of himself? Of Adrian? How do both opinions change by the end of the novel?

Revelation's Change
How does the revelation in the final pages change your understanding of Veronica’s actions?

Discuss the closing lines of the novel: “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest” (p. 163).

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
Have a good question? If your a clubie add one now.
“Elegant, playful, and remarkable.” —The New Yorker
“A page turner, and when you finish you will return immediately to the beginning . . . Who are you? How can you be sure? What if you’re not who you think you are? What if you never were? . . . At 163 pages, The Sense of an Ending is the longest book I have ever read, so prepare yourself for rereading. You won’t regret it.” —The San Francisco Chronicle
“Dense with philosophical ideas . . . it manages to create genuine suspense as a sort of psychological detective story . . . Unpeeling the onion layers of the hero’s life while showing how [he] has sliced and diced his past in order to create a self he can live with. —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Ferocious. . . . a book for the ages.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
“An elegantly composed, quietly devastating tale about memory, aging, time and remorse. . . . Offers somber insights into life’s losses, mistakes and disappointments in a piercing, thought provoking narrative. Bleak as this may sound, the key word here—the note of encouragement—is ‘insights.’ And this beautiful book is full of them.” —NPR
“With his characteristic grace and skill, Barnes manages to turn this cat-and-mouse game into something genuinely suspenseful.” —The Washington Post

“[A] jewel of conciseness and precision. . . . The Sense of an Ending packs into so few pages so much that the reader finishes it with a sense of satisfaction more often derived from novels several times its length.” –The Los Angeles Times

“Elegiac yet potent, The Sense of an Ending probes the mysteries of how we remember and our impulse to redact, correct – and sometimes entirely erase – our pasts. . . . Barnes’s highly wrought meditation on aging gives just as much resonance to what is unknown and unspoken as it does to the momentum of its own plot.” –Vogue

"Deliciously intriguing . . . with complex and subtle undertones [and] laced with Barnes' trademark wit and graceful writing." —The Washington Times
“Ominous and disturbing. . . . This outwardly tidy and conventional story is one of Barnes’s most indelible [and] looms oppressively in our minds.” –The Wall Street Journal

"Brief, beautiful....That fundamentally chilling question - Am I the person I think I am? -turns out to be a surprisingly suspenseful one.... As Barnes so elegantly and poignantly revels, we are all unreliable narrators, redeemed not by the accuracy of our memories but by our willingness to question them." —Julie Wittes Schlack, The Boston Globe.
"A brilliant, understated examination of memory and how it works, how it compartmentalizes and fixes impressions to tidily store away..... Barnes reminds his readers how fragile is the tissue of impressions we conveniently rely upon as bedrock." —Tom Zelman, Minneapolis Star Tribune
How can we make BookBundlz even better? Tell us what you think would make this website teh best for book clubs, reading groups and book lovers alike!

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I remember, in no particular order: 

– a shiny inner wrist; 

– steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it; 

– gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house; 

– a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams; 

– another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface; 

– bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door. This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed. 
We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return. 

* * * 

I’m not very interested in my schooldays, and don’t feel any nostalgia for them. But school is where it all began, so I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty. If I can’t be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That’s the best I can manage. 

There were three of us, and he now made the fourth. We hadn’t expected to add to our tight number: cliques and pairings had happened long before, and we were already beginning to imagine our escape from school into life. His name was Adrian Finn, a tall, shy boy who initially kept his eyes down and his mind to himself. For the first day or two, we took little notice of him: at our school there was no welcoming ceremony, let alone its opposite, the punitive induction. We just registered his presence and waited. 

The masters were more interested in him than we were. They had to work out his intelligence and sense of discipline, calculate how well he’d previously been taught, and if he might prove ‘scholarship material’. On the third morning of that autumn term, we had a history class with Old Joe Hunt, wryly affable in his three-piece suit, a teacher whose system of control depended on maintaining sufficient but not excessive boredom. 

‘Now, you’ll remember that I asked you to do some preliminary reading about the reign of Henry VIII.’ Colin, Alex and I squinted at one another, hoping that the ques­tion wouldn’t be flicked, like an angler’s fly, to land on one of our heads. ‘Who might like to offer a characterisation of the age?’ He drew his own conclusion from our averted eyes. ‘Well, Marshall, perhaps. How would you describe Henry VIII’s reign?”

Our relief was greater than our curiosity, because Marshall was a cautious know-nothing who lacked the inventiveness of true ignorance. He searched for possible hidden complexities in the question before eventually locating a response. 

‘There was unrest, sir.’ 

An outbreak of barely controlled smirking; Hunt himself almost smiled. 

‘Would you, perhaps, care to elaborate?’ 

Marshall nodded slow assent, thought a little longer, and decided it was no time for caution. ‘I’d say there was great unrest, sir.’ 

‘Finn, then. Are you up in this period?’ 

The new boy was sitting a row ahead and to my left. He had shown no evident reaction to Marshall’s idiocies. 

‘Not really, sir, I’m afraid. But there is one line of thought according to which all you can truly say of any historical event – even the outbreak of the First World War, for example – is that “something happened”.’ 

‘Is there, indeed? Well, that would put me out of a job, wouldn’t it?’ After some sycophantic laughter, Old Joe Hunt pardoned our holiday idleness and filled us in on the polygamous royal butcher. 

At the next break, I sought out Finn.‘I’m Tony Webster.’ He looked at me warily. ‘Great line to Hunt.’ He seemed not to know what I was referring to. ‘About something happening.’ 

‘Oh. Yes. I was rather disappointed he didn’t take it up.’ 

That wasn’t what he was supposed to say. 

Another detail I remember: the three of us, as a symbol of our bond, used to wear our watches with the face on the inside of the wrist. It was an affectation, of course, but perhaps something more. It made time feel like a personal, even a secret, thing.We expected Adrian to note the gesture, and follow suit; but he didn’t. 
Later that day – or perhaps another day – we had a double English period with Phil Dixon, a young master just down from Cambridge. He liked to use contemporary texts, and would throw out sudden challenges.‘“Birth, and Copulation, and Death” – that’s what T. S. Eliot says it’s all about. Any comments?’ He once compared a Shakespearean hero to Kirk Douglas inSpartacus. And I remember how, when we were discussing Ted Hughes’s poetry, he put his head at a donnish slant and murmured,‘Of course, we’re all wondering what will happen when he runs out of animals.’ Sometimes, he addressed us as ‘Gentlemen’. Naturally, we adored him. 

That afternoon, he handed out a poem with no title, date or author’s name, gave us ten minutes to study it, then asked for our responses. 

‘Shall we start with you, Finn? Put simply, what would you say this poem is about?’ 

Adrian looked up from his desk. ‘Eros and Thanatos, sir.’ 

‘Hmm. Go on.’ 

‘Sex and death,’ Finn continued, as if it might not just be the thickies in the back row who didn’t understand Greek. ‘Or love and death, if you prefer.The erotic principle, in any case, coming into conflict with the death principle. And what ensues from that conflict. Sir.’ 

I was probably looking more impressed than Dixon thought healthy. 

‘Webster, enlighten us further.’ 

‘I just thought it was a poem about a barn owl, sir.’ 

This was one of the differences between the three of us and our new friend. We were essentially taking the piss, except when we were serious. He was essentially serious, except when he was taking the piss. It took us a while to work this out. 
Adrian allowed himself to be absorbed into our group, without acknowledging that it was something he sought. Perhaps he didn’t. Nor did he alter his views to accord with ours. At morning prayers he could be heard joining in the responses while Alex and I merely mimed the words, and Colin preferred the satirical ploy of the pseudo-zealot’s enthusiastic bellow.The three of us considered school sports a crypto-fascist plan for repressing our sex-drive; Adrian joined the fencing club and did the high jump. We were belligerently tone-deaf; he came to school with his clarinet. When Colin denounced the family, I mocked the political system, and Alex made philosophical objections to the perceived nature of reality, Adrian kept his counsel – at first, anyway. He gave the impression that he believed in things. We did too – it was just that we wanted to believe in our own things, rather than what had been decided for us. Hence what we thought of as our cleansing scepticism. 

The school was in central London, and each day we travelled up to it from our separate boroughs, passing from one system of control to another. Back then, things were plainer: less money, no electronic devices, little fashion tyranny, no girlfriends. There was nothing to distract us from our human and filial duty which was to study, pass exams, use those qualifications to find a job, and then put together a way of life unthreateningly fuller than that of our parents, who would approve, while privately comparing it to their own earlier lives, which had been simpler, and therefore superior. None of this, of course, was ever stated: the genteel social Darwinism of the English middle classes always remained implicit. 

‘Fucking bastards, parents,’ Colin complained one Monday lunchtime. ‘You think they’re OK when you’re little, then you realise they’re just like . . .’ 

‘Henry VIII, Col?’ Adrian suggested.We were beginning to get used to his sense of irony; also to the fact that it might be turned against us as well.When teasing, or calling us to seriousness, he would address me as Anthony; Alex would become Alexander, and the unlengthenable Colin shortened to Col. 

‘Wouldn’t mind if my dad had half a dozen wives.’ 

‘And was incredibly rich.’ 

‘And painted by Holbein.’ 

‘And told the Pope to sod off.’ 

‘Any particular reason why they’re FBs?’ Alex asked Colin. 

‘I wanted us to go to the funfair. They said they had to spend the weekedn gardening.’ 

Right: fucking bastards. Except to Adrian, who listened to our denunciations, but rarely joined in. And yet, it seemed to us, he had more cause than most. His mother had walked out years before, leaving his dad to cope with Adrian and his sister. This was long before the term ‘single­parent family’ came into use; bac...
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Julian Barnes’s honors include the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2004 he was named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. He lives in London. 

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